Monday, September 17, 2007

Welcome home!

While i still have a few household goods i need to acquire (as well as edible things, since i haven't made it to a grocery store yet), i am largely settled in. i have learned a few important lessons since i've arrived, most stemming from our hair-raising trip to Ikea and Target yesterday.
  • People in DC make the soccer moms of St. Louis look like wonderful, patient drivers. The drivers here appear to think that honking will solve everything, up to and including traffic jams, stupidity, and global warming. Also, speed limits seem to be fiction, or perhaps randomly generated numbers.
  • Maryland evidently sees no need to label its roads with trivialities like street signs, exit numbers, signs describing to what each exit leads, official highway numbers, or how to reach major highways from access roads.
  • Virginia and DC, while better than Maryland, aren't exactly star-quality players in the road sign department. Signs describing each exit generally are only seen once you've taken the exit. Additionally, the various highways have all of the coherence of a bowl of spaghetti. My directions for returning home yesterday from Ikea had me take a right fork, a left fork, and a right fork - all within a single half-mile. Clarity? Logic? So overrated.
  • Living near National airport is very loud and nerve-wracking, but hopefully i'll get used to it quickly. There's just something a bit unsettling about seeing all of these planes flying in so close overhead that i can see their reflection in the local ABC affiliate's business tower next door.
  • MapQuest and Google Maps directions don't necessarily correspond to reality. Neither do the addresses given by stores' websites.
In other news, today i had my first meeting with a number of my classmates and the people in classes immediately before me. i think that, on the whole, things will be fine. It's intimidating to walk into a party without knowing anyone, but i managed. i found several people i had corresponded with via email, as well as lots of Arabic specialists, so that made things easier. The hardest thing is that i'm easily five to ten years younger than most of my classmates. It helps that i can say i have an MA... i just don't mention that i'm a tender 22! With any luck, by the time everyone finds out that fact, i'll already know them fairly well. The meet-and-greet was held at an ambassador's house, and i really wanted to meet him, because he used to head up State's Central Asia and Caucasus desks. Sadly, he was off in Sarajevo doing ambassadorial things. Maybe i'll meet him later... his son was there tonight and is learning Arabic in preparation to go to Riyadh. Maybe i can finagle an introduction.

Also - while i will find out on 2 November where i will be going, i am guaranteed to be in the US for at least another two weeks after that and possibly quite a bit more, solely on account of passport processing. After i'm done with that (one week of training plus one to eight weeks of processing), then i will move on to whatever training - language, functional, security - that i will receive in the States before moving abroad. The upshot is that it looks like i'm guaranteed to be here through Thanksgiving at least.

i think i should include another weekly feature - the Bilking of America (with apologies to Brian Williams and NBC News). Look for future installments (maybe on Sundays?) under the tag "bilking." First up - the deal i've worked out with my landlord!

Now, i'm in DC on temporary training duty, which means i cannot stay here any longer than twelve months. The upside is that my housing in DC is completely paid for on a declining per diem schedule - i get the most money for the first two months, somewhat less for months three and four, and even less for the remainder of my time here. However, through the wonders of creative accounting, i am allowed to "front-load" a lease - i pay more up front for the first two months, when i'm allowed more money, and my lease becomes a lot cheaper as time goes on. This A) enables me to get an apartment that i normally couldn't afford under my per diem schedule for more than two months and B) allows my landlord to receive $5850 this month, instead of the normal rent of $1950. The best part? If i were staying in DC for the full twelve months of the lease, then it would average out to $1950/month overall, but the chances are that i will be here no longer than four months. Thanks, Uncle Sam!

And now, on to a few photos of my new home and the surrounding neighborhood - you can click to see larger versions of the photos. i've included a map here that i have been constructing today with important locations and stores marked on it. Clicking the blue "pushpins" will give information about what is at that location. As i slowly figure out my way around, i'll add photos to the map. Will anyone actually use these features? i doubt it, but hey, i'm finding it quite fun!

This is the view towards the south from my balcony, overlooking a line of trees that largely obscure the Iwo Jima memorial. It's there, i promise!
i'm not really clear what these statues, located across the street from the entrance to my apartment complex, represent. Any ideas?
This statue is right by the nearest Safeway. Walking to a grocery store is a novel concept - carrying back what i buy is novel and a pain. Hopefully i'll adjust, and if there's some weight loss in the deal, well, so much the better.
i think that's it for tonight - i have to be at the shuttle stop to the training center by 7 tomorrow morning. If you made it to the bottom of this very long post, congratulations. Be sure to check in tomorrow evening (after six-ish Eastern time) for the list of places where i could be sent. At that point, you can start offering advice, your personal preferences for future vacations, and questions about the first day!


  1. I really enjoyed our road trip. And I love the new place so much that I'm thinking about booking a flight for next weekend. Just your age, a little bit of mothering goes a long way, right!?! Good luck tomorrow. Glad you don't have to take Ross there. ILyB

  2. So what's the deal on Ikea? Are you stocking up on furniture on the gubment's dime?

    Good luck tomorrow! I remember how exciting it was on the first day! I look forward to hearing about your bid list!